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Room with a you:
Experimenting with nature
Story by Heidi Kyser
Room with a you:
Indoors meets outdoors in this home-as-laboratory.
On the north-facing wall of Sierra Slentz’s living room is a photogram-like painting of several flower bouquets laid out, overlapping each other, against a background of her signature colors: aqua, magenta, pink. Slentz, who teaches art at Las Vegas Academy, made this piece in 2001, the year she graduated from the MFA program at UNLV.
“Made” is the best verb, because her process involved more than just painting. “I actually grew all of these flowers in my backyard from seed, harvested them, put them in ceramic vases that I cast from interesting bottles I found in the desert, and arranged them like a florist or set designer would do,” she says. “When I was painting this, the vase was sitting on the canvas on a flat surface, and the light was projected to cast shadows on it. I would play with the light to get the shadows that I wanted.”
Like most everything else in the 1952 downtown home that Slentz shares with husband James Baeb and their daughter, Stellar Slentz Baeb, the painting doesn’t stand alone. Spilling over on the wall to the left of the large panel are several smaller pieces, illustrating an evolution in her work — from painting to sculpture to multimedia installation.
Also, like the rest of the décor in the house, the collection of Slentz’s work on the living room wall represents an indoors-outdoors intersection. As you step through the front door, you’re greeted by two large picture windows giving onto the backyard, where chickens scratch, six raised garden beds bloom and a school of koi meanders around a large pond. In the kitchen, fully stocked ceramic egg trays line the counter, and the beans, grains, pickles and jams that the family cooks with sit in unusual bottles and vases on small shelves among the wall art.
And there’s something besides art happening at this inside-outside nexus: science. Explaining the origin of small, square tiles on the kitchen wall that serve as appliance backsplash — colored variations dotting a mostly white array — Slentz says: “In an elementary school where I worked, I was supposed to teach ceramics for an after-school tutoring group. … I wasn’t familiar with glaze or loading or firing a kiln, so the kids and I set up science experiments with different colors and glazes and temperatures, and made notes to practice the process of investigating and learning and creating predictions.”
It sounds strikingly like the process she and Baeb have gone through in creating their outdoor garden, chicken habitat, indoor hydroponics garden/fish tank setup and so on. “We just buy things from the store, cut them open, put them in there and see if they’ll sprout,” she says, referring to the plant-filled space atop a large fish tank in her art studio. Fish waste is pumped up to a bed of lava rock-like pebbles that hold moisture and nutrients and pass them to seedlings nestled there. “We just successfully sprouted some lemongrass from the Asian market. Now it’s in the backyard.”
Soon, it will make its way to the kitchen, and then the dining room table, completing the circuit that Slentz and Baeb power with their apparently boundless creativity and energy. In this home-as-laboratory, everything is part of the grand artistic experiment.
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